How the South Really Operates | The Globalist

This piece is a research essay, co-authored by Carl Bindenagel and Bill. for The Globalist. It is Part II of The Globalist’s American Mezzogiorno series. Part I, by Stephan Richter and Carl Bindenagel, is The American Mezzogiorno: A Thanksgiving Reflection. Part III (“Take the Money and Run”) can be found here.


The American South’s political power manifests itself in the following four dimensions:

1. Congressional Power
2. Agricultural handouts
3. Defense spending as a welcome stimulus
4. Antiquated thinking

Exhibit 1: Congressional Power

Prior to the 2014 mid-term elections, representatives from the American South chaired or represented a majority of members on important permanent committees and subcommittees in the U.S. House of Representatives. At the state level, Republican governors led unified government in 26 states.

American Mezzogiorno

Part I: A Thanksgiving Reflection

Part II: How The South Really Operates

Part III: Take the Money and Run (Friday)

How have these lawmakers used influential policy-positions to affect the welfare and livelihoods of their constituents? Mainly they enriched themselves, protected the powerful, and deliberately harmed the vulnerable in their jurisdictions and states.

They directed federal funding to themselves and to contractors with powerful lobbies and fought against programs to assist the poor, the abused and common citizens. Often, this included children, who are among the impoverished in America and who lack resources, including access to education.

Lawmakers’ self-serving behavior at the expense of their constituents can most clearly be seen on the defense-spending related committees in the U.S. Congress.

Southerners account for 53% of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and 55% of the House Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security (compared to nationwide population share of 38%).

Most tellingly, the membership of the House Subcommittee on Military Construction/Veterans Affairs is now 63% southern. The Chair of the full House Appropriations Committee is a southern Republican as well.

All of this matters greatly: Under the U.S. Constitution, all spending bills must originate in the House and ultimately from its Appropriations Committee. The Republican-dominated House (and the Southern-dominated House Majority) therefore has great control over how and where federal money will be spent.

Exhibit 2: Agricultural handouts

In addition to the defense sector, in rural communities, farmers are frequently subsidized – even in the event of crop-failure or natural disasters (such as floods or droughts).

Historically, this was crucial to prevent small-family farms from collapsing. But today, with the rise of consolidated agribusiness, the picture looks very different.

Many Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House support this type of subsidy, not only for their constituents, but also to enrich themselves.

In September 2013, several of the same House members who voted to cut almost $40 billion out of food stamps over the next decade personally received hundreds of thousands or even millions of federal dollars in farm subsidies.

Take the case of Rep. Stephen Fincher. He cited a passage from the Bible as justification for his vote against providing food stamps, presuming that a needy person was just lazy.

“He who does not work will not eat,” said Fincher. But from 1999 to 2012, the gentleman himself (not his state) received more than $3.4 million in federal farm subsidies.

Fincher’s is not the only case of faulting needy working people while claiming personal privilege from the government:
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Somalia: When the terrorists go locavore

Shabab-Logo-somaliaAccording to an al Jazeera report, farmers in a major grain-producing region of Somalia under the control of the al-Shabab terrorist group (responsible for much of Somalia’s post-2008 violence and several major terrorist attacks across Eastern Africa) say that the group’s farm reforms have been extremely beneficial.

After a 2011 famine killed 250,000 people, the Islamist group began construction on new irrigation systems and canals to prevent such disasters. In total, they’ve already spent $2 million on infrastructural development to boost farm capacity.

The group also more recently kicked out the Western aid NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who were importing non-local food for humanitarian relief purposes. While that food aid might seem helpful, it essentially meant they were giving out free alternatives to buying from local farmers. This established a cycle of dependency where no one bought food from local farmers (because they could get free meals instead) and then the local farmers became destitute as well and must depend on the food aid from the West. Each additional farm failure reduced the region’s food supply, further increasing dependence.

The next step al-Shabab took was to reform the tax system of their jurisdiction and drive up demand for the local food:

By not taxing farmers for their land but for what they produce, Boru said al-Shabab is encouraging more people to farm – which means more tax income from the increased produce. And by providing rent-free premises for restaurateurs who serve only locally sourced food, the group is maintaining the demand for local food and safeguarding their coffers, he added.

 
al-Shabab also staged a PR campaign to promote local food purchases, including having doctors tell patients it would be healthier to eat locally. Both production and demand have risen dramatically in the region and may help ward off famine and reduce extreme poverty. al-Shabab will, of course, also make a lot more revenue, which means that — beyond having more money to buy weapons for the civil war and terrorism campaigns — they’ll likely be able to provide additional social services and food aid to the needy in their territory.

Everyone wins, more or less. Even the Western NGOs will suffer fewer attacks after several years of skyrocketing attacks.

Like it or not, one of the ways terrorist groups become broad-based political movements, rather than just isolated bands of disaffected young men with violent solutions, is when they transition successfully into the role of de facto local government and social service provider.

This development — not overly surprising from a group that grew out of the governance-oriented Islamic Courts Union movement last decade — demonstrates a higher level of strategic and long-term planning than your average group of heavily armed rebels. In many ways, such reforms will make al-Shabab both a stronger military force to be reckoned with and a more legitimate political force to have to bargain with.